Lilith"Games in general feel like such nightmarish visceral messes, no matter how hard they try to conceal it."
Booting up a one of Lilith's various freeware or web browser games feels like arriving in a dream. Dropped into a maze-like space with unclear direction, you are left to interact and explore with a world that doesn’t seem to subscribe to any type of video game reality. Embracing the stretched out textures, crude characters, and confusing gameplay found in “broken” or “bad” games, Lilith’s creations simulate a virtual unconscious, with recurring objects (the blue truck!) and characters (Dendygar!) making cameos across games like Oeneric Castles, Lost Town, and Symbol. Currently working on a sequel to Crypt Worlds, her most elaborate game to date, we were honored and excited to find out more about the creator of “the pissing game.”
You're from Minnesota right? What's it like there?
Growing up where I did was strange. I haven't been there in years, so most of my feelings surrounding it exist only as images in my head now. When I was young it was still mostly rural with a few old strip malls and family businesses, but over time it became more and more urban- an incomprehensible labyrinth of new streets, hotels and casual dining places populated with billboards and featureless utilitarian structures.
One thing I notice is that game creators are more sensitive to architecture more than most artists.
I actually wanted to be an architect as a kid! I've always felt really attached to buildings. Dreamy artificial lighting, cold concrete, the sounds of the building breathing... just wandering and moving through a place there's a lot going on sensory-wise. I've always felt alien in the world around me so being able to just exist in a place, feel it, and not need anything else is really powerful for me.
How did you get into video games?
Games were always kind of just there. As a kid i spent lots of time at hospitals and daycares while my family took my one sister, who has serious health issues, to her frequent appointments. Kids would have gameboys, and daycares would have all sorts of cruddy old games lying about. Usually I was only getting brief glimpses of them, drifting through these mysterious zones contained in little physical relics.
When did you get your first game system? Or was it a computer?
I had my own computer games much earlier. My dad had been involved in the tech boom of the 90s, so we had lots of weird edutainment games and shoddy shareware demos. Up until we got an N64 most of my experience with games was limited to occasional things on the computer or playing in bursts outside the home.
How did you first try the N64?
The hospital my sister was at got some when they came out, and I became really obsessed with Mario 64. I have lots of memories being high up in this hospital in downtown Minneapolis at night, sitting around exploring this colorful weird world, while around me was this endless, artificially lit realm of depressing chambers and corridors. There were big windows that you could see down into the city from, it felt like an ocean of lights against the darkness.
The N64 was a big deal i remember. The third dimension was crazy.
I couldn't believe it was even a thing honestly! It felt like ~Secret Government Project~ or something to me. 3D was the realm of important guys in labcoats on dramatic TV shows. The idea I even had access to 3D games was weird.
How did you start making games?
I started trying to make my own games in 2010 with game maker 8. I had just left high school and suddenly had a ton of time to focus on my own projects, so it seemed like a good time to finally pursue my interests in games.
What were you making before?
I originally was making way different stuff, really elaborately illustrated 2D grayscale city zones, some much more formally gamey, others were more experimental.The first game I worked on was a Shmup about spreading a virus around a floating city, where you'd corrupt other ships and they'd become part of you. I finished some of the code and a lot of graphics, but mostly just wanted to draw a bunch of sprites of buildings, so once that was done I stopped.
When did you start using Unity?
Programs like Unity and Wings3D that made me realize 3D games were actually a possibility and spent tons of time playing around in it, making one-room places to just walk around in. The first game I finished, "Mutation", is a huge incomprehensible mess but I still think the environments are really interesting.
Are you self taught or did you have a formal education?
Self taught. I dropped out of high school- I had spent a lot of my teens in mental hospitals and avoiding school, so instead just spent my time making music, drawing and making little movies.
Were you going on the internet much in your teens?
I've basically had internet my whole life as a result of my dad being involved with the tech stuff. As I got older, I didn't really have friends, so instead I built my own lil zones, and carved shelters for myself online.
What were you putting up?
I made lots of music in my teens, when myspace was popular. I'd make band profiles for imagined bands, populated by ghosts and other creatures I'd draw, then when I hit the 4-song limit I would move on to another new page. I'd also make Geocities webpages when that was still around. I really loved reworking grainy Gameboy Camera photos, MS Paint sketches and bits of text, into elaborate collages.
How did you first become aware of experimental or independent games?
I wasn't really too aware of it when I started making games. I've honestly always tried to avoid being part of any scene or community because of my Trademark Fear of Humans- but I first started getting more involved with making games when i started talking with thecatamites. His work was hugely influential to me when I started making games, and I still look up to him a lot when it comes to making stuff.
What was it about his work that you liked?
They captured the feeling of what I liked about games in the first place. They're these messy and colorful dioramas populated with plinky little toys that have this kind of affectless demeanor, but are still fun and genuinely cute. Talking with people who had similar tastes about this stuff and bouncing ideas off one another was a huge boost to my interest in making games.
How familiar are you with a world before creating it? How much is planned vs. discovery?
A lot of times it starts as me frequently thinking about somewhere in my life. Like, the idea for Symbol started when I was thinking about a childhood dream a lot. I had vague images of the "feel" of that world, what it would look like, but figured out the details of it over the course of development. I like the idea of making games as a form of archaeology. Uncovering bits and pieces of this larger thing, figuring it out as details accumulate.
Is that where the archaeologist in Crypt Worlds comes from?
I mean, the archaeologists in crypt worlds mostly just started because i liked the idea of random jerks forced to excavate stuff in your basement.
It also reminds me of that Atari documentary about digging up of the ET games… were you a fan of that story? ET visually looks a lot like Eternal Alien.
I didn't actually see that! Eternal Alien was my desperate attempt at finishing where ET left off, to finally destroy Video Games once and for all…
I really liked seeing your dream diary on your homepage. Do you ever dream in video games?
It's usually not directly, but more like "everything is slippery and I'm inside an enormous skyscraper jumping between ledges and balconies." In my teens I was really interested in exploring the hidden stuff in MMOs so I'd dream about whole hidden areas: glitchy geometry and cracks in the world or strangely placed things. Dreams have always fascinated me with the way they rework elements of things you've seen, but in totally unexpected ways!
I saw a friend of yours speaking about abstraction in games and she shouted you out. What is your take on abstraction?
Games in general tend to be really abstract- pretty much any representation is gonna rely on some abstracted language to portray a thing, to varying degrees.I have always been really interested in how early 3d games, or just small "amateur" games made by people for fun, feel more honest in their abstraction. The things I make tend to feel sparse and limited which brings out qualities you don't see in anything else. Things are more flat or stretched, shapes are blurred and minimal, in a lot of cases becoming something totally different.
Could you talk a little about the genesis of Crypt Worlds?
It was at a point where I was coping with a lot of loss, and spent large portions of my time totally alone... I didn't originally plan for it to be very big but kept having more ideas. It became an outlet for just dumping anything I liked or was thinking about, a stable coping mechanism, having fun just plopping ideas into this larger infrastructure.
Where did the idea come from?
I first had the idea after watching a longplay of "darkseed" one night, and the next morning tried to copy what i liked about that aesthetic: early 90s multimedia crud, grotesque digital garbage superimposed over these otherwise kinda boring places.
How did it evolve?
I'd spend lots of time walking around the environments thinking "where could this go" or "what could i put here" toying around, trying them out... over time it'd go deeper and deeper, figuring out interactions between stuff, new ways to tie them together or mess with them. The first day I made 3 areas, the front lawn, the forest maze, and the prairie- and just tried to imagine all the places I could go from there. It ended up much different than i initially imagined.
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